Establishing Catholic Chicago

Over the last few years, we have considered the history of St. Mary of the Angels. Yet our history must be put in context of the great pioneers of the Faith in our city and state. This should inspire us to think big, long-term, and consider how each one of us can contribute to the future of the Catholic Church where God has placed us.

Establishing Catholic Chicago

In May 1673 French Jesuit, Fr. Jacques Marquette joined his friend and explorer Louis Jolliet on an expedition to discover and map the Mississippi River. They traveled from Green Bay over to the Wisconsin River and then down to the Mississippi. Traveling down the Mississippi River the two came across Native Americans of the Illinois tribe, and entered the Indian village called “peouarea” (Peoria). They continued down the Mississippi River until it met the Arkansas River, and then returned to Lake Michigan via the Illinois Rivers. The two arrived to the mouth of the Chicago River at Lake Michigan on December 4, 1674. Fr. Marquette recuperated in a small cabin they built before returning to mission of St. Francis Xavier in Green Bay, Wisconsin. That small cabin, where Fr. Marquette likely celebrated Holy Mass, was the first building of the future city of Chicago.

Before reaching the future location of Chicago Fr. Marquette and Jolliet came across a large village on the Illinois River of the Illinois tribe. The village was called Kaskasia. Fr. Marquette would return in 1674—as he promised the chieftains—to establish a mission among them and to share with them the Catholic Faith. Father Claude Allouez took over the mission from Fr. Marquette, who died in May 1675 at age 37.

The first Catholics in Chicago and its surroundings were French. Most were fur traders. In 1791 those of European decent in Illinois numbered only 1221. In the 1830s the Catholic population in Chicago was about 100. So Mark and Jean Baptiste Beaubien, who ran the Sauganash Hotel, decided to build the first Catholic church in Chicago, calling it St. Mary’s (it was located near the corner of State and Lake streets). Mark Beaubien petitioned the bishop of St. Louis for a priest, and Fr. John St. Cyr was sent here as pastor of St. Mary’s.

On November 28, 1843 Chicago was made a diocese with Bishop William J. Quarter has our first spiritual head. The first great wave of Catholic immigration came in 1846-48, when famine in Ireland brought many to Chicago. Bishop Quarter allowed each parish to keep its markedly ethnic identity. Although he would die in April 1848, Bishop Quarter ordained twenty-nine priests and built thirty churches.

From 1841-50 a large number of German Catholics immigrated to Chicago. By 1870, the diocese of Chicago had more than 40,000 Catholics, 142 priests, 26 parishes, and 50 Catholic schools.

In the 1850 U.S. Census, only 495 individuals (72 women) were counted of Polish origin in the whole United States. In ten years that number rose to 7,298 (309 here in Chicago). In 1864 Polish families formed the patronage of St. Stanislaus Kostka and bought land for a church—about a mile from St. Mary of the Angels towards downtown. A Polish diocesan priest, Fr. Joseph Juszkiewicz, administered the parish. A year before St. Stanislaus Kostka, Annunciation Parish was built—on the corner of Paulina and Wabansia, just a block south of St. Mary of the Angels—to serve the English-speaking Irish Catholics who lived along the Chicago River (that church was closed and razed in 1978).

The pastor of Holy Name Cathedral, Fr. Joseph Roles, approached Fr. Jerome Kajsiewicz CR superior general of the newly founded Congregation of the Resurrectionists, asking him to supply priests for Chicago’s Polish and Bohemian immigrants. Fr. Kajsiewicz visited Chicago in 1871 and met with Bishop Foley who formally agreed to entrust the Polish missions in Chicago to the Resurrectionists for the next ninety-nine years. The Resurrectionists then took possession of St. Stanislaus Kostka parish.

The real influx of Polish—along with Lithuanian and Italian Catholics—began in earnest in 1890. The Lithuanians built St. Michael’s Catholic Church on Wabansia, between Paulina and Marshfield, in 1904. By 1909 more than 2,000 Lithuanians worshipped at St. Michael’s on a given Sunday. St. Michael’s is now closed and torn down.

Fr. John R. Waiss


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Restore God’s House Campaign

To bring our history of St. Mary of the Angels up to date, let’s look at what has taken place in the last twelve years. Restore God’s House Campaign

Fr. Joseph (Fr. Joe) Landauer joined Fr. Hilary and Fr. Charles on the Priests’ Council in 2005, replacing Fr. John Debicki. With Fr. Hilary as Moderator and Pastor, the three priests worked together to face the challenges of the parish. In 2006 they replaced the windows in the school and refinished pews in the church. That year the school began using computers in its curriculum.

In late 2007, leaks began to appear under the dome, as well as from the roofs or walls of the South Tower and other spots in the church. The South Tower restoration project was put on hold when they discovered the extent of the repairs to the dome, and the parish began setting aside Annual Catholic Appeal rebates for possible repairs. In 2009 water leakage was getting severe and various solutions were proposed, with an estimated cost ranging from 1.6 to 2.5 million dollars. Plastic sheets were installed between the outer and inner domes to collect the water and try to keep it from causing further damage until repairs could be made. The Restore God’s House campaign began at the end of 2009 to raise the necessary funds to begin construction.

Initially the Restore God’s House campaign sought to raise $2.5 million to repair the dome, restore the North and South Towers, and replace the parapet on the façade. Parishioners donated and pledged more than $1.5 million. Work began on the Dome in September 2010. When the scaffolding went up, so did a sign saying “Save the Dome.” This garnered additional donor interest. The Archdiocese gave us a loan for $1.67 million to help us finish the dome project.

When the dome was being repaired, additional damage to the cupola of the dome was discovered, raising the costs of the repair project to $3.17 million. This meant that the parapet and the North Tower had to wait.

But when Fr. Joe’s father died in November 2011, an additional $750,000 was bequeathed to the building fund. About the same time Cardinal George approved St. Mary of the Angels for a debt reduction program where the Archdiocese would match every dollar raised for the Annual Catholic Appeal if we applied it against our debt. The bequest enabled us to fully repair the South Tower and restore the interior of the church (damaged because of the water), while the parishioners raised more than $900,000 by January 2013 erasing our debt to the Archdiocese of over $1.8 million.

I came to the parish in the midst of that campaign, in 2012, replacing Fr. Joe. Cardinal George appointed me as moderator of the Priests’ Council and pastor on May 1, 2014. Most of the issues I had to address in my first year were ordinary repairs and services of the church, but in July 2015 a terracotta cornice came crashing down into the parking lot, shortly after everyone left the 5pm Saturday vigil Mass and the parking lot had cleared—“the angels held it in place until everyone was safe,” it seemed. Engineers surveyed the exterior and secured potential safety issues, using metal bars to secure similar cornices and outer tracery of the stained glass windows; metal mesh was put over beams, bricks, or terracotta on the façade and North Tower. All these were emergency repairs for safety purposes.

Now God calls us to move forward to face these current needs so we can share our faith and this beautiful legacy with future generations. Let us pray that we can continue that legacy with fidelity to Christ and his Church, while loving Our Blessed Mother and all her little children gathered at her feet.

Fr. John R. Waiss


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Read the Story form the Chicago Chronical

This week the Archdiocesan newspaper, the Chicago Catholic—formerly the New World—celebrated its 125th anniversary. Although we have not found the 1899 article describing the dedication of our parish and church—now our school building—we do have the text from the Chicago Chronicle—a Sunday newspaper published from 1895 to 1908. Here is the article:

A new church was dedicated yesterday with impressive ceremonies. Archbishop Feehan dedicated St. Mary of the Angels, a Polish Catholic church at Hermitage Avenue and Clybourn Place [now Courtland Street], assisted by distinguished clergymen of the city.

The dedication of this north side edifice was performed with all the impressive ritualism provided by the Catholic faith, and representatives from every Polish parish in the city were in attendance.

A procession with 5,000 men in line, comprising members of forty religious societies, preceded the ceremony. The residences and shops within a half mile of the edifice, were decorated with flags and bunting in honor of the occasion. The St. Stanislaus cavalry met Archbishop Feehan and party at North and Holt Aves [now Greenview], and escorted the distinguished prelates to the church. Assisting the Archbishop in the ceremony were the following priests: Rev. Francis Gordon of St. Mary of the Angels Church, Rev. John Radziejewski, Rev. John Zilla, Rev. George Heldman, Rev. David Fennesay, Rev. Hugh Ogara McShane, Rev. Mathias Barth, Rev. J. E. Clancy, Rev. John Kasprzycki of St. Stanislaus Church, Rev. Joseph Ziemba, Rev. Stanislaus Siatka, Rev. J. Obyrtacz, Rev. J. Barzynski and the Rev. Eugene Sedlaczek.

Mayor Harrison, Alderman Stanley H. Kunz, Alderman John Smulski, Peter Kiolbasa and City Collector Frank Brandecker were present as invited guests. At 4 o’clock the procession of priests and acolytes formed in the vestibule of the church, with Archbishop Feehan leading, and the march around the interior of the building was begun. As the procession moved along, the archbishop sprinkled holy water on the walls and invoked Divine blessing on the edifice. The prelates then passed forward and the sanctuary was blessed by the archbishop, while the attending priests chanted the litany. The choir sang the responses, after which Archbishop Feehan stepped to the chancel rail and delivered a brief address. He said in part:

“I wish to congratulate you upon the completion and dedication of this fine building which you have erected. We are congregated in a place that is much needed to accommodate the rapidly growing Catholic population of this locality. We have many beautiful churches and schools and this will take its place among them.

“There is nothing more gratifying than to find, that wherever a Catholic church is erected in a community, there is a school by its side to educate its people in the grand state of our belief. I feel that I should give you just a word of advice upon an occasion of such importance. My advice is, that you hold together and remain united according to the teaching of the Holy Catholic Church and be obedient. Do this and you will become a great and prosperous and happy people.”

The dedicatory sermon was preached by the Rev. John Kosinski CR in the Polish language.

Work on the new church was begun April 21 and the corner-stone was laid July 2. It is three stories in height and built of pressed brick, trimmed with Bedford stone. It is 92 feet wide and 225 feet long and designed after the renaissance style of architecture. It cost $65,000.00 and is under the care of the Fathers of the Resurrection … In the basement are four large meeting halls and an auditorium. On the main floor are twelve classrooms for the parochial school. The auditorium for worship is on the second floor and the living rooms for the resident priests are above.

Fr. John R. Waiss


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Read the story from the 1920 New World—Chicago Catholic

This week the Archdiocesan newspaper, the Chicago Catholic—formerly the New World—celebrated its 125th anniversary. Here is the article describing our brand new church when it was first dedicated:

The parishioners of St. Mary of the Angels Church, Wood and Cortland Streets, saw the pinnacle of their ambition reached after more than eight years of work, in the solemn ceremonies attending the dedication of their beautiful church Sunday. The day was one of unusual impressiveness, and the exercises throughout the day and evening were attended by thousands of persons including scores prominent in civic and professional life. His Grace, the Most Reverend George W. Mundelein, DD, Archbishop of Chicago, pontificated at the dedication. Other special guests of honor were Ambassador Gibson, United States Ambassador to Poland, and Prince Casimir Lubomirski, Polish Envoy to the United States.

The day’s exercises began with a procession at 9 o’clock, led by Leo Zamorski, as commander-in-chief, assisted by Ladislaus Borucki, Paul Labunski, Joseph Regosh, Paul Mika, Stanislaus Sacharski. A police platoon was led by Lieutenant Joseph Palczynski. Kipkowski Brothers’ orchestra took part. The line of march led through the following thoroughfares: Hermitage, Cortland, Girard [now Honore], Armitage, Winchester, Lincoln [now Wolcott], Wabansia, North, Dickson [now Bosworth] and Paulina. At Wood Street it was joined by an assembly including LaFayette and other councils of the Knights of Columbus, continuing on its way to the rectory, where it terminated. The dedication march about the church and inside the edifice followed: Honorary deacon to His Grace, Archbishop George W. Mundelein, were the Rev. John Zwierzchowski, pastor of Holy Innocents Parish, and the Rev. Francis Ostrowski of St. Josaphat Parish.

The dedication exercises began at 10:30 o’clock, with Solemn High Mass celebrated by the Rt. Rev. Msgr. Stanislaus Nawrocki, pastor of St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church, assisted by the Rev. Stanislaus Siatka, pastor of St. John Cantius Church, deacon, and the Rev. Thaddeus Ligman, vice-rector of St. Stanislaus College, as subdeacon. The Very Reverend Msgr. E. F. Hoban, DD, was first master of ceremonies, and the Rev. John Sobieszczyk, pastor of St. Hyacinth Parish, second master of ceremonies. Archbishop Mundelein delivered a congratulatory address and the Rev. Bronislaus Cieslak CR preached the sermon of the day in Polish …

The afternoon’s program consisted of vespers, celebrated by the Rev. Leonard Long CR solemn May devotions took place in the evening, celebrated by the Rev. Stanislaus Gadacz CR and the sermon was given by the Rev. Vincent Rapacz CR. The procession was led by the Rev. Francis Gordon, rector of Sf. Mary of the Angels, with the Rev. John Sobieszczyk and the Rev. Joseph Tarasiuk, assistants.

An imposing edifice, St. Mary of the Angels can be seen for many blocks. Its completion marks the termination of eight years and eight months of untiring activity on the part of its loyal congregation. Authorities on architecture agree that it is one of the finest specimens of the Roman Renaissance churches in the United States. It was erected at an approximate cost of $400,000 and its seating capacity is 2,000. Its altars are by Daprato Co., and an organ soon to be installed will cost $23,500 and therefore congratulations are due in unlimited quantity to the Rev. Father Gordon at the completion of his years in labor erection. The church will ever stand as a monument to the pastor’s earnest zeal and activity.

Fr. John R. Waiss


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Rebuild My Church

Throughout the 1960s and ‘70s Polish families began leaving Bucktown and were replaced by Hispanic families. Deteriorating physical conditions forced the closure of the church building. Plaster was falling from the roof and dome, and a piece grazed a parishioner, the Archdiocese mandated the building be closed. This took place after the last Mass celebrated on January 3, 1988.

While closed, daily Mass was celebrated in a chapel between the rectory and the school building (now used by Midtown Program and Residence). Each week the school auditorium went from hosting the Friday night BINGO to provisional “church” for Sunday Masses. There were discussions concerning possibly demolishing the closed church and replacing it with a smaller one. The neighbors, parishioners, and former parishioners began to pull together in a grassroots effort to save the church—an ambitious goal of $1.26 million was set by the Archdiocese in order to save the church. After missing the goal by $100,000, authorities decided not to repair the church, which led to some demonstrations in front of the Cathedral and the Cardinal’s residence.

In February 1988, Álvaro del Portillo—the prelate of Opus Dei—came to Chicago on his pastoral visit throughout the United States. On February 14 he wanted to make a pilgrimage to some place that honored Our Blessed Mother, but instead of going to Queen of All Saints Basilica—as many anticipated—the vicar of Opus Dei in Chicago, Fr. Bill Stetson, arranged for him to pray to Our Lady at St. Mary of the Angels. While here he prayed for the parish that the church would reopen and entrusted to priests of the Prelature. Fr. Bill Stetson brought this to Cardinal Bernardine’s attention and discussed the possibility of the pastoral care of the parish to be entrusted priests of the Prelature of Opus Dei. This took place on the parish in 1991, with the consent of Bishop Álvaro del Portillo. [Note: The first successor of the founder of Opus Dei would die on March 23, 1994 and would be beatified in Madrid on September 27, 2014. Grateful to him for “saving” the parish, many parishioners frequently go to his intercession].

Fr. John Twist was named pastor and the parish formed a priest council to govern the parish, with Fr. John as its moderator. Fr. John Debicki and Fr. John (Jack) Kubek were the first to join Fr. John on the council. Fr. John was an incredible fundraiser which enabled the restoration to go forward quickly.

They immediately began major repairs to the dome, roofs and stained-glass windows at a cost of $2.1 million. The church was reopened on October 2nd, 1992 and rededicated on October 11 by Cardinal Bernardin, who told the congregation: “We meet here today to celebrate a promise fulfilled, an encounter accomplished, a mission begun.” Later that year, Eugene and Terry Urbaszewski accepted the “A Landmark Reclaimed” award from the Partners for Sacred Places on behalf of Fr. John Twist and the parishioners of St. Mary of the Angels.

Fr. Jack was soon replaced by Fr. Hilary Mahaney in 1993; Fr. Charles Ferrer also joined the team at that time. When Fr. John had to leave for health reasons in 1995 Fr. Hilary Mahaney took over as pastor. In 1997 the church interior was restored. For the 100th anniversary of St. Mary of the Angels, new lighting, doors, and sound system were installed, and the 26 rooftop angels restored. With these efforts brought more families to St. Mary of the Angels, reviving the parish.

Fr. John R. Waiss


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